SHEGUIANDAH—Participants of Sheguiandah Niibini Aasookaanan (Sheguiandah Summer Stories) concluded their two-week arts and culture journey with two delightful performances at Sheguiandah Seniors’ Hall earlier this month.
The program, led by Lisa Hamalainen, Artistic Director, and Shelba Deer, Cultural Director, sought to combine creative pursuits with Anishinaabe cultural practices by engaging youth in activities such as storytelling, dramatic play, creative writing and theater practice. The young protégés also learned about the Anishinaabe culture and the importance of connecting with the land and the spirit.
Much of the programming took place at Myengenuk Gizhekeking Endaat in Sheguiandah, one of the program’s community partners, and was led by Richard Lathwell.
Ms. Deer began the performance by sharing the vision she and Ms. Hamalainen had for the program three years ago, just before the pandemic hit and even before that with Ms. Hamalainen’s traveling show, “There no word for wilderness,” which was created in Kagawong and from there went to Wiikwemkoong and then Toronto.
“Lisa had the idea of bringing arts and culture to young people, to all young people,” explained Ms. Deer. “She approached me with her idea and I said ‘yes!’ We started writing a grant application, which was not approved the first time.
The couple didn’t give up, however, and they offered a ceremony, laid down tobacco and prayed to the Creator “to make it a reality to empower young people to speak their truth and speak from their hearts,” Ms Deer continued. . And that dream was realized by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council and 4elements Living Arts, all of whom were thanked and recognized during the show.
Ms. Deer also said chi-miigwetch to children and young people for making the program what it was.
Hosted by Jamie Oshkabewisens, he called on young people to give their performances to an intimate audience in the room.
Bneshiish Chindemi and Amira Deer-Roy were the first to introduce themselves and told the story of a rabbit and a hare who were best friends and only had one thing in common: their eyes blue.
During their daily wanderings, they encountered a turtle who told them that blue eyes like theirs held special powers, according to the ancient stories of their ancestors, and that they were connected to water. A water spirit then confirmed this to the friends and their powers were discovered and used for good and harmony in the forest.
Keiran Aguonia was next to the stage in the room and he told the story of a tyrant wolf who took great joy in terrorizing other animals in the Sheguiandah Forest. One day, the wolf came across a young bear who did not appreciate the torture and thus gave the wolf a taste of his own medicine.
The two went back and forth that way until Nanabush intervened, scolding them and warning them that they had better get along or face the consequences.
The two listened, becoming best friends and official protectors of the Sheguiandah bush.
Ashton Towegishig then told the story of the bear who wanted to give up.
Robert was a young bear who had no interest in leaving his home or learning bear activities, choosing instead to let his mother do all the work for him. One day she gave him an ultimatum and when she left to get food for the day, she never came home.
After a few days, Robert’s hunger took over and he decided to try salmon, his favorite dish, but he just couldn’t make it. He gave up and was about to let fate take its course when he came across a magical winged turtle who told Robert he would guide him to food.
The magic turtle took him back to the river and just said “go get him!”
Just like that, Robert caught two salmon. It gave him all the confidence he needed to stand on his own, survive and thrive.
Throughout the performances, small salmon swam in circles around the room, and Robert. They were played by the youngest performers in the group: Ethan McGraw Hill, Dream Aguonie, Conan Agoneh, Migizi Aguonie and Kobe Francis.
Ms. Deer and Amira then sang a song about water.
‘What made me smile was the little ones running around,’ Ms Deer said of the ‘salmon’. “The teachings of water gave them great inspiration in their art.”
The exhibitor caught up with artists Keiran, 15, and Ashton, 18, after their performances.
Keiran said he had a lot of fun during the two-week program, which taught him more about his Anishinaabe culture while bringing him out of his shell and encouraging his creative side.
“I learned how to present to an audience and add emotion,” Ashton explained. “We did a lot of activities, a medicine walk and heard teachings,” he added, noting that one of those teachings inspired him for his story.
Following the event, the group and their followers enjoyed a Nish taco feast and offered tobacco at a sacred fire on the Sheguiandah First Nation powwow grounds.